Monkey Business. A classic 1931 movie from the Marx Brothers.
Groucho was the best known of the Marx Brothers, but the most intriguing brother was Harpo, who took to wearing a bright red wig on stage in the early days of the four brothers’ act. He took on the part of a mime, never speaking in his movie roles, appearing here in the role of Sir Isaac Newton in The Story of Mankind.
The year of the film was 1957, marking the final appearance of the four brothers on film, and the year before Ralph Mitchell Siegel was born. I never had the privilege of meeting Ralph, but I had heard of him through the years. Like Harpo, he was known to many by his signature red hair, though Ralph’s was not a wig. It was as real as the signature red hair of a good friend and optometric colleague, Dr. Stuart Rothman, who was a neighbor and close friend of Ralph’s in West Orange, NJ before Ralph’s untimely passing in 2011 at the age of 52.
Stu emailed the other day to relate that my comment citing Siegel at the end of a blog post triggered a highlight of Ralph’s career that I had forgotten. In a seminal article in The New Yorker magazine, Stereo Sue, Oliver Sacks describes that in February of 2005, the writer, along with ophthalmologist Bob Wasserman and vision physiologist Ralph Siegel, visited Sue at her home in Massachusetts, to measure her vision. They tested Sue and she was able to see depth in various forms. The rest of Sue’s story needs no introduction, but it’s always a treat to hear Oliver Sacks tell it, including his relating the trip with Wasserman and Siegel.
Oliver Sacks was instrumental in getting Ralph’s book, Another Day in the Monkey’s Brain into print, a posthumous tribute to his career. Oliver wrote the introduction to this short but fast-paced volume, contained in a preview which you can read here. Beyond the delightful introduction, through which you’ll get a glimpse of Ralph on a personal level, this short book scintillates with Siegel’s intellect. I particularly enjoyed his description of meetings with Francis Crick at the Salk Institute in LaJolla. In 1982, Crick formed the Helmholtz Club together with Ramachandran and Shaw, inviting researchers to the Salk for extended discussions about various topics in vision and systems neuroscience. Siegel spent many summers at the Salk, and was clearly influenced by Crick’s interests in consciousness.